Welcome to Axios World, where two evenings a week we break down what you need to know about the big stories from around the globe.
Watch your step. Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
Justin Trudeau broke his silence on the biggest scandal of his premiership this morning, insisting there was nothing illegal or unethical about his handling of a corruption case against engineering and construction giant SNC-Lavalin.
Why it matters: Trudeau’s popularity has been slumping ahead of his re-election bid in October. With his former attorney general claiming she felt “inappropriate” pressure to settle the case against SNC, Trudeau is now having to defend the image of an honest and transparent leader he's polished during his four years in office.
The latest: Trudeau suggested today that the controversy was the result of an “erosion of trust” that developed, unbeknownst to him, between his office and the former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould.
Catch up quick: SNC would be banned from bidding for government contracts for 10 years if convicted of fraud and corruption over its dealings with the Moammar Gadhafi regime in Libya from 2001 to 2011. That puts thousands of jobs at risk, many of them in Trudeau’s home province of Quebec.
In Trudeau’s telling, this was all about jobs. His rivals say it was all about cynical politics. Wilson-Raybould, meanwhile, has suggested it caused her to lose her job.
Between the lines: This has been a month of controversy that "in some ways seems mild — no money changed hands and no laws appear to have been broken,” the NYT notes. Nevertheless, it's dominating Canadian politics in an election year.
Commercial satellite imagery from March 6 of North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Station. Photo: Airbus Defence & Space and 38 North. Pleiades © CNES 2019, Distribution Airbus DS.
North Korea’s Sohae rocket launch site is back to “normal operational status” just one week after the Hanoi summit ended in “no deal,” according to an analysis of satellite images by 38 North.
Backstory: North Korea has in recent days been repairing the site, which it partially destroyed following the Singapore summit last year. Joel Wit of 38 North said at a Stimson Center event this week that the regime had poured a lot of money and effort into Sohae, viewed its partial destruction as "above and beyond the call of duty," and felt the U.S. was refusing to make any concessions in return.
What’s next: “You don’t know whether this is a bargaining tactic or whether someone has made a decision that now we’re moving on this other track,” Wit said. Noting that neither Trump nor Kim Jong-un is known for patience, he added: “What’s going on at Sohae tells me someone might have said, ‘let’s take a shortcut.’”
As I wrote on Monday, much of the analysis after Hanoi was that Trump lacked leverage with Kim, who emerged from even a failed summit with increased global stature and little urgency to make a deal.
The activity at Sohae might indicate Kim doesn't view things that way. And Town made a point I hadn't considered about the benefits of Kim's pariah status fading:
"It builds more leverage over time now that North Korea has something to lose. They've lived under sanctions for a long time. But this is new."
"How hard could it be?" Zelensky on set of his show, "Servant of the People." Photo: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch issued a scathing rebuke to Ukrainian leaders this week for failing to tackle corruption. She called for Ukraine’s special corruption prosecutor — whom she said was “coaching suspects on how to avoid corruption charges” — to be fired.
Backdrop: Ukraine’s presidential election is March 31. Poroshenko is deeply unpopular and may even be left out of a runoff between the top two finishers. Actor Volodymyr Zelensky, whose only qualification is that he plays a president on TV, is leading the polls. His main selling point is that the old guard are all crooks.
Stay tuned: I’ll have more on this crucial election in the comings weeks.
Protesters march through the streets of Podgorica, Montenegro, last Saturday. Photo: Adel Omeragic/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Protests over corruption and abuse of power have swept through Montenegro, Serbia and Albania, three Balkan states with ambitions of joining the EU.
Zoom in: Last Saturday night, 20,000 Montenegrins took to the streets of their capital, Podgorica, write Ryan Scherba and Ari Mittleman of Balkan Insider:
Why it matters: Montenegro is the newest member of NATO and furthest along EU aspirant, though its bid to join that bloc has been hurt by corruption.
The big picture: "Critics of the EU across the Balkans accuse it of supporting these 'stabilitocracies' — systems run by autocrats whose abuses of democracy are tolerated because they are seen as guarantors of stability in a complex region," per the Irish Times.
Trump announces a trade truce last July with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
The big picture: Emboldened by their apparent successes in renegotiating NAFTA as well as the China trade relationship, Trump and his hardline trade czar Robert Lighthizer will train their sights on a slew of other countries.
Japan: The U.S. announced this week an investigation into Japanese titanium exports on national security grounds.
European Union: President Trump wants the EU to remove its massive industrial and agricultural subsidies, and he has threatened import tariffs on EU cars if he doesn't get his way.
Emerging economies: The U.S. isn't just taking aim at rich countries. This week the White House announced it would end preferential treatment for India and Turkey under a decades-old trade regime intended to promote growth and prosperity in poorer economies.
Some of you probably have the recent profiles of John Bolton and Mike Pompeo on your "read later" lists. They're both worth diving into when you get the time, but for now, here's some smart brevity:
Graeme Wood's descriptions of Bolton in The Atlantic as "shrewd" and "ill-tempered" ("It’s difficult to exaggerate how hard it is to earn a reputation as a dick in Washington," he writes) are familiar. His analysis of the position Bolton finds himself in ("less like a national security adviser than a lawyer clawing back the utterances of an uncontrollable client") make for a smart, amusing read.
Mattathias Schwartz writes that Pompeo's "attempt to weld Trump’s moves into a real doctrine will outlast the presidency that gave birth to it" in his great NYT Magazine profile.
H.R. McMaster joined FDD's "Foreign Podicy" podcast this week for a lengthy and interesting interview.
One takeaway: It might have been under-appreciated during McMaster's time as NSA just how hawkish he really is, particularly on Iran and North Korea.
Kashmiris stand on the rubble of a house destroyed in a gun battle between Indian government forces and local rebels on March 6. Photo: Yawar Nazir/Getty Images
"Burn in hell, executioner of the people and murderer of women and children!"— A protestor who disrupted a somber commemoration of Stalin in Red Square on the anniversary of his death. The man was dragged away by police.
"Contemporary attitudes in Russia are split over the historical legacy of Stalin, with many younger Russians saying they are unaware of the purges under his rule."— The Moscow Times
Thanks for reading — see you next week!